Visegrád Group (V4) Innovation & Technology Webinar
Keynote Address by SNDGG’s Second Permanent Secretary at Visegrád Group (V4) Innovation & Technology Webinar
8 Dec 2021
Your Excellency Judit Pach, Ambassador of Hungary to Singapore, Excellencies of the V4 countries, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Very good afternoon to you, and thank you for inviting me to this webinar.
First of all, I just wanted to welcome Ambassador Pach who recently joined us in Singapore. The weather is a bit warm here compared to what you have in Eastern Europe, but I trust that you will have a good time here and I hope that we could actually leverage the relationship with you and with the other investors to really deepen our collaboration.
It is very timely that we have this webinar, because we know in Singapore how important and how innovative the V4 countries are. You are traditionally very, very strong in maths and science. And I remember in a previous job when I was working with the Prime Minister, that his maths tutor was actually from Hungary – Béla Bollobás from Trinity College. And I know that many of our companies also have a lot of tech and development teams in your respective countries. And I know that some of our companies like Sea and Shopee are very strong in Poland, so it’s really good that we have that interaction.
I’ve been asked to speak about Singapore’s vision of a smart city. I’m going to keep it short and talk about what our vision is. I will give you some examples and how that relates to the companies, and talk about three areas of focus. I’m sure many of you know the market much better than we bureaucrats do. And if there’s anything that we can do to help you understand the market better and to help you connect with different players, please reach out to us. But let me just start with a simple vision with just three aspects.
Singapore’s Smart City Vision
Our Smart City vision is quite simple. It’s just to be sustainable, resilient, and ultimately to enhance the quality of our people’s lives. That’s fundamental.
Let me start by talking about the quality of life. Our mission is to make sure that a smart city benefits our citizens and businesses in every aspect and to harness technology to do that. Quality of life is front-and-centre to what we do. It’s really no different from any other tech company that you see today, when they talk about being customer-centric, measure customer success, and look at the customer lifetime value and all that. It’s the same thing for us. In our Ministry of Finance, we have several quality-of-life measures, measures of society, measures of how vibrant our economy is, and the aim of the smart nation is to apply technology to give these measures a boost.
There are several tangible examples related to the companies today in terms of smart city management. For example, our technology agencies have developed several apps that help make lives better. The One Service App is an example of that, where our citizens and residents, if their encounter a problem – whether it’s a pothole, a lamppost is not working, or if there’s choking in some drainage – they can use the app to communicate and receive speedy updates and resolution. Simple solution, right? I know there’s a gentleman here today, Michal Matus of eParkio, you have integrated parking markets in your app. We also have a parking app in that sense. I think all these, by itself they may not seem much, but added together they enhance lives. The ultimate test frankly is if the citizen doesn’t notice, but actually their lives get better, and that’s really what engineers strive for. So quality of life is really our North Star and our guiding principle.
Now then, let me talk about sustainability. Now, if you know, actually Singapore’s really small. We’ve got no land, no manpower, no resources, really nothing. And even if you rely on alternative energy, whether it’s solar energy, I know there’s a few solar companies here, and if you make every wall and every surface, if you put a solar panel on each of them, they can at most meet 20% or 30% of our energy needs. So Singapore has to do a lot with very little, and every part counts. And this extends all the way to how we think about usage of land, because we are not only a city, but we are also a country and a nation. And in that sense, for many of the things that can be hived off to the countryside, we don’t have the luxury to do so.
So, how do we do that? We have to use rooftops, and one of the things we do with rooftops, apart from using them for solar panels, is to use them for farming. In fact, we have a “30 by 30” initiative nationally, to make sure that 30% of our food needs can be catered for and grown domestically by 2030. That requires us to invest very deeply in agri-tech and intensive farming. For solar power, likewise, we are already rolling it out and we intend to double our solar power capacity by 2030. And I know that there’s a Polish company here called Seedia who’s building smart solar furniture, and I think those are really relevant applications to a resource-poor country like Singapore.
And finally, a key part of vision is resilience. Simply because we recognize that we are a small country, and we are talking about a 50-over year history, right? If we are not resilient, actually we can be fragile, brittle, and we can break. And I think COVID was a real test of that for many different countries; you can’t really sit on your laurels and you think you’ve done a good job because COVID just keeps twisting and turning. Initially we thought we did a good job and we’re patting ourselves on the back, and then the Delta strain hit, and we had to manage some degree of movement restrictions. But it just goes to show that a very key part of resilience is how much social cohesion there is. And we must learn how to adapt together, and that’s something that a smart city must do. Not to use technology so that some people’s lives are better than other people’s lives, but to make sure that there’s some equality, and there’s some cohesiveness.
Enablers of a Smart City
Now, so what are some enablers of this philosophy? Let me just talk about three things that we do and focus on.
First, building infrastructure like public housing, roads, and smart infrastructure. This is about sensors, data, 5G, and telco. I know some companies here are in 5G solutions like ICT Unie from Czech Republic and IS Wireless from Poland. I think those are critical. It is the government’s job to make sure that infrastructure is there so that companies can leverage them.
The second piece is open innovation. We don’t have all the solutions and we have to be prepared for new business models, whether it’s in terms of using digital tools to plan our towns, embracing innovations in electric vehicles, or even allowing new business models to pay good in Singapore, disrupting potentially existing business models.
And finally, collaboration. To build a smart city we need to collaborate with the private sector, other people, and other countries. I know GreeHill, an innovative company, has been helping us and NParks to manage our urban forests, to help us map each tree’s location, and allow us to identify trees that need management and inspections. I think these are important areas for us. We don’t have all the answers and we are always looking outwards for the best solutions out there. And I’m really glad to see the list of companies that many of our government agencies and companies are working together with the V4 countries. And so I hope that we can continue this collaboration and take this much further. Thanks very much.
Mr Chng Kai Fong
Second Permanent Secretary
Smart Nation and Digital Government Group